This current Springbok team is made so special by the quality of player that runs from one to 23, and their success has been based off consistency across the squad far more than reliance on individuals. There have, however, been certain players whose individual efforts deserve recognition, writes Oliver Keohane.
Siya Kolisi’s coming of age has been 2021, and it speaks volumes of the player and man that after guiding his team to Rugby World Cup glory in 2019 he was able to improve and assert himself even more two years later. Kolisi the captain has been inspirational, but it is an inspiration that has the extra edge that continuously being one of the best players on the field gives you.
Some leaders are vocal, some lead simply by example… Siya Kolisi led in both ways as he played in every one of the Springboks’ 13 games in the most gruelling year that a Bok side in the modern era has had, given their absence from international rugby for a year, and then the condensed and constricted calendar imposed by Covid.
It is hard to pick specific moments, because Kolisi was brilliant in nearly every match. He was a force throughout the British & Irish Lions series, a stand out player in every one of the games on the end of year tour, despite losing to England, and in the Springboks’ heartbreaking 19-17 last minute defeat to the All Blacks, Kolisi played his best game in a Bok jersey and one of the best we have seen from a Springbok flanker in a long time.
This is a Kolisi who had to combat criticism for most of the year, recovered from Covid in between his first Test of the year against Georgia and the first Test of the British & Irish Lions series, and captained the team through nearly six months of bio-bubbles and touring. Bravo, Siya Kolisi.
WATCH: A tribute to Kolisi
Eben Etzebeth ends 2021 aged 30 years old and with 97 Test caps for the Springboks. It should surprise nobody given that every time he is picked, he performs.
Etzebeth was by far one of the best players over the British & Irish Lions tour, and took that form into the remainder of the year as he played in 12 of the 13 games, showing as much disregard for his own body as he did for the opposition. It must also be noted that he was forced to step up hugely from a physical perspective in the year-long absence of Pieter-Steph Du Toit and RG Snyman.
Etzebeth remains the Springbok enforcer, but he has become one of the best kick chasers around and developed an incredible high-ball game. He has been a maestro at the lineouts, especially in setting the maul and stealing opposition ball and has come forward as one of the Springboks’ primary ball carriers as well as the go-to man for charging down kicks and taking out flyhalves.
Many around the world were left in disbelief that Etzebeth was not nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year, and his form on the end of year tour (including a Man of the Match performance against Scotland) earned him global approval as essentially the unofficial Player of the Year.
WATCH: Etzebeth v British & Irish Lions
DAMIAN DE ALLENDE
There is never much written about Damian De Allende, because there is little flash to the way he plays but almost never error either. In a rugby world obsessed with sensation, skill and showmanship, simply doing your job better than the rest earns you little attention. But let us, for a second, turn our attention to De Allende, who remains in my mind the best number 12 in the world at the moment.
I wrote earlier in the year that De Allende is the best inside centre in the world, and if anything his form has only further verified this view. De Allende made a remarkable recovery from burn injuries suffered at the beginning of the year to come back just in time to help the Springboks beat the British & Irish Lions, passing his 50 Test cap mark during the year too.
De Allende was relied on heavily by the Boks, playing in 11 of the 13 matches and not once did he disappoint, going forward in contact in every carry, defending the inside centre channel superbly and often effecting turnovers and assisting at ruck time like an extra loose forward. De Allende quietly goes about being the best in his position, and allows for the players around him to perform to the best of their abilities too. His consistent quality is what allows Lukhanyo Am to play so well, and equally Am is the perfect complement on the outside to allow for De Allende to thrive in his direct approach.
WATCH: A tribute to De Allende